Banks and thrifts throughout California have launched an unusually blunt round of advertising attacks against Wells Fargo & Co.

In the past month, at least a half-dozen major institutions, including Great Western Bank, American Savings Bank, City National Bank, and Citibank, have launched marketing campaigns - scheduled to run four or five months - that make direct appeals to customers who may be put off by Wells' April 1 merger with First Interstate Bancorp.

Many of the ads are unusual in that they make overt, or thinly veiled, direct references to Wells and the merger and taunt the company. In this way, they resemble an attack approach that had been unique to Glendale Federal Bank among the state's largest institutions.

"It used to be a very clubby industry, and now it's getting fierce," said Cary Sacks, president and creative director of Sacks/Fuller Advertising in Los Angeles.

Mr. Sacks' firm created several radio ads for Beverly Hills' City National Bank that rank among the most blunt of those now running.

One radio spot begins with the sound of foghorns and seagulls, then an announcer says: "Let's face it Southern California. Right now, a bunch of San Francisco bankers eating sourdough bread are celebrating the conquest of yet another L.A. bank: First Interstate."

The spot touts $4.1 billion-asset City National as the largest independent bank left in Southern California.

American Savings's ad has a radio soap opera called "As the Banks Merge." Great Western is airing television ads during Lakers basketball games that feature bank spokesman Dennis Weaver, who co-starred in the western "Gunsmoke," walking up to an unattended teller window in a ghost town.

Citicorp's California thrift subsidiary has display ads in San Francisco kiosks that incorporate its City of Dreams marketing theme. "In your dreams, no one pushes you around. And your bank never puts you through a merger."

The attacks have gotten so voluminous that Wells Fargo president William F. Zuendt has taken notice. He played a number of the radio spots in a speech at the company's annual shareholder meeting Tuesday, accompanied by photographs of classic battle scenes.

Mr. Zuendt told reporters after the meeting the attack ads have not slowed Wells' growth in consumer households. But he said he didn't yet know what impact they would have on First Interstate customers.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.